The Auburn Student-Housing Task Force met last week to hear a presentation from Auburn University representatives on the takeaways from four focus group sessions with students.
"We wanted a chance with those students to hear really candid feedback," said Lady Cox, assistance vice president for student engagement at Auburn University.
In all, 34 students with diverse backgrounds, and financial means participated, with the majority (65 percent) being upperclassmen or graduate students.
The same percentage of participants overall said they were living in their top accommodation choice and that they would prefer to rent by unit instead of bedroom. Private dormitories typically rent by the bedroom.
Among all participants, the top three most desired amenities when choosing a place to live were proximity to campus, space and price.
"Distance to campus was incredibly important," said Cox, who added that Tiger Transit access and the age of the property were other listed considerations. "Space, when they talk about that, that’s entertainment space, so a large living room or a porch where people can congregate together."
Students generally stated that the preferred walking distance from their residence to campus should be 10 to 15 minutes and no more than 20.
Price was also extremely important in students' decision-making process when selecting where to live or whether to live off or on campus regardless of their financial situation.
"When you live on campus, you pretty much sign a nine-month lease that’s only for the school year. Off campus, it’s a 12-month lease, which is probably going to be cheaper than nine months on campus," said James Sadie, an Auburn University student on the task force, when discussing comments from students involved in the focus groups. "In terms of pricing, it was interesting because of all the groups that we heard from you would think some would be a little less concerned with price than others; but each and every group said pricing is one of the top concerns. It’s something that they think of constantly."
Students also indicated that they were willing to sacrifice location and amenities for price, but expressed frustration with yearly rent increases without upgrades to facilities.
The housing type with the highest desirability for students was cottages and houses because of a preference for more private space, ease of parking and choice of roommates.
Those housing types would generally fall under the city's cottage housing and academic detached dwelling unit uses.
The larger private dormitory complexes that have sprung up over the past several years got mixed reviews from students. According to the presentation given to the task force, main takeaways on students' opinions of the "high-rise" apartment complexes were:
• Many felt they appeal largely to underclassmen as a replacement for on-campus housing.
• Students described the pricing as high.
• Students described often leaving after one year in the apartments.
• The location is good and bad: close to campus, but loud downtown.
• The tall buildings undermine the "small town feel."
• Other concerns included construction quality; long-term occupancy rates when no longer new; non-local management; poor cleaning/maintenance; and traffic safety.
One of the more revealing student comments paraphrased by Cox about private dormitories concerned West & Wright, formerly the Evolve, along West Glenn Avenue.
"One of the students explained, ‘You really don’t want to live at Evolve; you just want to have a friend who’s there,' " she said.
There are no further Student-Housing Task Force meetings planned at the moment as the city awaits Auburn University to release projections on future student enrollment numbers.